Richmond Register July 26,2016
While there are many programs available to address and help people with addictions, the Celebrate Recovery program at First Baptist Church, Richmond, goes beyond simple addictions to help participants address a wide variety of life problems.
“We address hurts, hang-ups and habits with a faith-based program,” said Eva Gay, who with her husband, Mike, are co-ministry leaders of the program at First Baptist.
Both Eva and Mike say they have dealt with addiction issues within their own families, and have found the program immensely helpful in working out these kinds of issues and the problems they cause in life.
The Celebrate Recovery program was developed by Pastor Rick Warren and John Baker, of the nationally prominent Saddleback Church, and has been adopted by about 20,000 churches throughout the country.
According to Mike Gay, while the basics of the program are standard, each has its own unique character that varies from church to church. He said that while some programs are focused primarily on addiction issues, others tend to address other issues, such as life challenges that include topics like anxiety, grief, shame, guilt, fear, depression and many others.
“Ours, for example, tends to be less about addiction than those struggling with life issues,” Mike Gay said.
“We actually do celebrate the recovery that God has brought into our lives,” said Eva Gay.
While the 12 steps originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous are part of the Celebrate Recovery program, it is based on eight principles taken from the beatitudes found in the Bible.
Eva Gay said that while Alcoholics Anonymous stresses belief in a “higher power,” Celebrate Recovery defines that higher power as Jesus Christ, making the program a Christ-centered one.
Mike Gay said another way the program tends to be different from others is the amount of stress it puts on personalization.
“We start off by getting to know you during a meal, then there’s praise and worship and fellowship built in. You become part of a kind of ‘Celebrate Recovery’ family,” Mike said. While the program is definitely a Christ-centered one, Mike stressed that everyone is welcome to participate in the program.
“There are no prerequisites. We don’t insist on any particular beliefs. We believe in acceptance and love. We leave it up to each individual to decide what to believe,” he said. “Come as you are and we will welcome you,”
Nikki Strunck, who serves as the program’s worship leader at the church, said she became involved with it due to substance abuse issues within her own family and as the result of the death of her son, Brendan, of a heroin overdose on Jan. 2 of this year.
Strunck, who is a strong advocate for drug awareness and for programs like Celebrate Recovery, has worked on those issues both within Madison and surrounding counties, sharing her story and experiences with others. She credits the program with literally saving her life.
“I was in recovery first for enabling and then for grief. Had I not done the work needed to get through this program, emotionally and spiritually, I would have killed myself,” said Strunck.
While the Celebrate Recovery program begins anew at the first of every year, it is structured so that new people can join at any time and catch up with the group.
The group meets every Thursday on the lower level of the church, accessed by a door behind the building, which is located at 425 Eastern ByPass in Richmond.
There’s dinner and fellowship from 6 to 6:30 p.m.; praise and worship from 6:30 to 7; teaching or testimony 7 to 7:30; breakout groups from 7:30 to 8:30; and an opportunity for coffee and socializing from 8:30 to 9 p.m.
In addition to providing dinner on meeting nights, the program also provides child care for those who participate.
Mike Gay said current breakout groups include chemically dependent men; chemically dependent women; men with life issues; and women with life issues.
He said the program is establishing a new breakout group whose primary purpose is to address the problems of those who have an addicted family member or friend.
Like most programs of its kind, Celebrate Recovery places a high premium on anonymity and privacy.
“What’s said in the group stays in the group. It’s a safe place,” said Eva Gay.
Each of the breakout groups is led by a facilitator who acts as a coach. “We’re not counselors by any means. We’re a support group,” said Mike Gay.
Because Celebrate Recovery is a ministry of the church, First Baptist provides support for meals, childcare services, training and literature. Support is also received in the form of a grant from the Madison County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP).
According to Mike and Eva Gay, participants in the program come from a wide variety of sources, ranging from word-of-mouth to court referrals to referrals from other area social services agencies. Participation varies in number from about 30 to 50 at any given time.
Mike and Eva Gay and Nikki Strunck agreed that if there is one message they want to convey about the program, it is one centered around hope.
“You’re not alone. There is hope. There is recovery. There is success,” all three agreed.
For more information about the Celebrate Recovery Program, go to the First Baptist Church site at www.fbcrichmondky.church and click on Celebrate Recovery under Ministries.